Shoot to Kill

Yesterday afternoon the Police admitted that the man they shot on Friday was totally unconnected with any terrorists. In fact he was a Brazillian electrician, who had been living quite legally in London for the past three years.

It is worth considering at this point, that many are justifying the shooting by saying that he shouldn’t have run. Consider how an upbringing in Brazil may have affected him. In the case of the shooting, these were plain clothes officers, not visibly police officers, so in all the shouting and confusion a man whose English was not that great is being shouted at by armed men, who aren’t in a uniform. Having been brought up in Brazil, the instinct was to run. Someone who met Jean Charles de Menezes has blogged on precisely this subject.

Also bear in mind that even when they had him pinned down, eye witnesses have said that he was shot five times. This was no long range shooting, but five times at his head at close range. There is an article on the BBC News site that explains the dilema that faces armed Police officers in the situation, but the question is whether the current situation justifies what happened.

To my mind the shooting is a dangerous precedent, especially as whilst expressing regret the commisioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair has said that the shoot to kill policy stays, and that more innocent people may be shot. However, we have to consider what we as a nation regard as important, and what we are willing to give up in the fight against terrorism. The simple question is, do we think it is acceptable for a plain clothes policeman to shoot an unarmed man, pinned to the floor, five times in the head at close range, whether he thought he was a suicide bomber or not. The IO Error blog discusses the same question:

It’s definitely a bad idea to run from the police, but if a bunch of men with guns confront me, not wearing police uniforms or giving any indication that they are indeed police, I am not going to stick around if I can avoid it. They could have easily been robbers or even terrorists.

The article also highlights that the British were warning the USA against adopting just such a policy in Iraq as recently as May, because of the effect that shooting innocent civilians was having. The British military highlight situations such as Bloody Sunday, the fallout from which continues to be felt more than thirty years later.

Both the British and US policies have repeatedly put the countries forward almost as world policemen. In Afghanistan when the Taliban government refused to turn over Bin Laden to the USA, we supported the Northern Aliance, allowing them to defeat the Taliban, and now have a military presence in the country. Two years later in a move still controversial, the USA aided by the British invaded Iraq. Certainly in the case of Iraq there were questions over the UN mandate for the invasion, however in both cases the British and the USA were acting almost as world policemen, whether with world backing or not.

If, as we have done we are portraying oursleves as the guardians moral values around the world, then it is consumate on us to ensure our values are upheld in our actions at all times. However this leads to concern with policies such as the long term detentions at Guantanamo Bay, and the current issues of the number of innocent civillians killed as collateral damage in Iraq. Both of those, amongst many other actions have led to accusations from many in the Islamic world that the US and British are just as much terrorist as the terrorists groups they claim to be fighting, due to in their eyes, our apparent disregard for innocent life and double standards in the human rights we claim to uphold.

As such it is important that, as in the case of the British soilders being tried for war crimes, we regard the Stockwell shooting in the same way. If we are putting ourselves forward as examples to the rest of the world of how people should live, we have to show that we are above the terrorist who would kill innocent civillians to support their cause, and in cases like Stockwell investigate the incident and deal with it accordingly rather than taking the attitude that these things happen and steadily giving up all of the civil rights and freedoms that we are advocating for everybody else.

Ultimately, if we do that, if we do allow ourselves to degenerate to the level where we are happy for our police to shoot an innocent, pinned man, five times in the head, the terrorists will have won.

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